Catholic Church strides toward unity

The pope and archbishop of Canterbury prayed together publicly for the first time since the churches split nearly 500 years ago. Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby held a combined Anglican evensong and Catholic vespers service on Oct. 5, 2016, at the church of San Gregorio, the church from which St. Augustine was sent to convert England to Catholicism in a.d. 597.

The archbishop was visiting Rome to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Anglican Center, an embassy of sorts for the Anglican Communion in Rome. Archbishop David Moxon, the director of the center, said the two churches are “85 percent” in agreement. He said that seeking unity is “part of our dna.”

During the weeklong unity celebration, the churches commissioned 19 pairs of bishops, each with one Anglican and one Catholic, to work on unity around the world. They will look at practical ways to unite the churches, and may even preach from each other’s pulpits.

The meeting came just two weeks after the Catholic and Orthodox churches reached an important agreement that will pave the way for greater unity between the churches that formerly split in 1054. On Sept. 21, 2016, the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church agreed on a document titled “Synodality and Primacy During the First Millennium: Towards a Common Understanding in Service to the Unity of the Church.”

Catholic World News said the agreement “represented a substantial victory” for the joint commission: “The agreement on the historic function of primacy is significant because the question of papal primacy is one of the key stumbling blocks in Catholic-Orthodox ecumenical discussions” (Sept. 22, 2016).

Speaking in Georgia on October 1, Pope Francis told Catholics not to try to convert Orthodox Christians. “There is a very grave sin against ecumenism: proselytism,” he said. “We should never proselytize the Orthodox! They are our brothers and sisters, disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Accusations that the Catholic Church is trying to poach Orthodox members is another wedge dividing the two. In strongly rejecting this, the pope is attempting to remove another barrier to unity.

On October 31, the pope traveled to Sweden to mark the beginning of the 500th anniversary year of the Protestant Reformation. That event began what will be a yearlong series of trips and scheduled events designed to foster unity between the Catholic Church and Lutherans.

Lutheran leaders have said that they hope to fully heal their divide with Rome during this 500th anniversary year. Both the pope and Lutheran leaders said they wanted to use the anniversary to accelerate efforts to completely heal the rift between the churches, so that a Lutheran could take communion in a Catholic church and vice versa.

Catholic-Lutheran unity has already taken great strides in recent decades. In 1999, the Lutheran World Federation signed a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification with the Vatican. The doctrine of justification was at the heart of Martin Luther’s disagreement with the Catholic Church, which led to his excommunication. Now that disagreement has been overcome.

In 2007, the Catholic, Lutheran, Orthodox, Methodist, Anglican and Armenian-Apostolic churches in Germany all agreed to recognize each other’s baptisms as valid.

“Five hundred years ago, wars were fought over the very issues about which Lutherans and Roman Catholics have now achieved consensus,” said Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Some points of disagreement remain, and talk of achieving full communion in 2017 has died down in recent years, but many of the major divides have already been bridged.

This push for unity with Christians of all different kinds has been one of the biggest themes of Francis’s papacy.

In 2013, America’s largest Presbyterian church, along with other major Protestant groups, signed an agreement with the Catholic Church recognizing each other’s baptisms. The Catholic Church is even making progress with Pentecostals. Pope Francis has also held receptions with top American televangelists, including Joel Osteen in 2014.

In November 1963, in the midst of the Second Vatican Council, the Plain Truth reported: “Today, the time is ripe—according to official Catholic views—for making the final effort to unite the church bodies of the Christian world. The mighty problem of achieving unity is twofold. First, it involves reconciliation of the Orthodox Schism that officially commenced in 1054 and divided the churches in the East—Greece, Russia, the Balkans and the Near East—from Rome. Second, it involves restoration to the Roman communion [of] all Protestantism, which developed from 1517 onward.”

Both these divides are now very close to being bridged. For more on what this unity will mean for the world and how it will be achieved, read the chapter “Returning to the Fold” in our free booklet He Was Right.

A Vatican solution for Venezuela?

After a tour of four oil-producing nations in the Middle East, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro made an unannounced visit to the Vatican on Oct. 24, 2016, to meet with Pope Francis.

Six days later, under Vatican supervision, Venezuela’s government and the opposition met for the first time since early 2014.

It was evidence of the Vatican’s influence in Latin America, a prophetic trend the Trumpet has pointed to for years.

The meeting followed months of mounting pressure from the opposition against Maduro’s presidency. On Sept. 1, 2016, opposition supporters flooded the streets of the Venezuelan capital to push for a recall referendum on Maduro. The demonstrations were dubbed “The Taking of Caracas.” On October 20, the nation’s electoral council suspended the recall referendum campaign, further angering Venezuelans.

The Vatican-sponsored talks came at a good time for Maduro: The opposition had planned hearings to seek the embattled president’s ouster.

“At the start of this journey,” Vatican envoy Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli said as talks between the government and the opposition began, “I ask you in the name of Pope Francis that each side agrees to some concrete gestures to give credibility to this process.” He added: “The country is waiting for authentic signals to comprehend that dialogue is a reality.”

Fifteen parties belonging to the Democratic Unity opposition alliance refused to participate in the talks. Other opposition parties were not even invited. Leading opposition leader Henrique Capriles wrote on Twitter, “I don’t believe Maduro even when he says ‘Good morning.’” He also wrote, “They are devils capable of anything. But I do trust Pope Francis and believe in the church.”

Pirates try to take over Iceland

New and fringe parties keep rising in Europe, including Lithuania’s Peasants and Green Union (lpgu) and Iceland’s Pirate Party.

The lpgu is now Lithuania’s biggest party, going from just one seat in parliament to 54 in October elections. The party was founded by billionaire farmer Ramunas Karbauskis, who has promised to form a technocratic government and to slow the exodus of Lithuanians from their country.

In Iceland, the Pirate Party, founded in 2012, came in third place in October 29 elections. Before, it had three seats in Iceland’s 63-member parliament. Now it has 10.

The Pirate Party is part of a global movement that began in 2006 that opposes copyright restrictions and demands more privacy and less regulation on the Internet. “Though most of its members skew libertarian to anarchist, the party is officially non-ideological and sets its platform through online polls,” wrote Joshua Keating (Slate, Oct. 24, 2016). The rise of the fringe parties shows how fed up so many have become with Europe’s mainstream parties, and how they are open even to radical alternatives.

Wallonia almost derails trade talks

A free-trade deal between the European Union and Canada that was seven to eight years in the making was halted, not by a small group of nations, not even by an individual nation, but by Wallonia, a region of Belgium. Soon after, on Oct. 26, 2016, Belgian officials announced that a deal with Wallonia had been reached and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (ceta) could proceed. But the fact that one of three regions in one of the EU’s smallest and least powerful countries could hold a major deal to ransom is adding to the sense that the EU’s current situation is unworkable.

“It’s crazy. If we allow a regional parliament to block a trade deal that will benefit the whole EU, where does this lead us to?” asked Christoph Leitl, president of the Global Chamber Platform. “ceta is not just a deal with Canada, it has model character for Europe’s future trade relations.”

“If the EU is like a fleet of ships, then it can only travel as fast as its slowest ship, and at the moment great cruise liners are seeing themselves being held back by a rowing boat,” wrote Belgian Member of the European Parliament Sander Loones for the EU Observer. “How long before they decide to cut the rowing boat loose and dash for the horizon?” (Oct. 19, 2016).

For decades, the Trumpet has forecast that a much smaller, more tightly knit group of nations will emerge from the EU. Wallonia’s attempts to hold the whole Union to ransom is increasing the urgency of EU leaders to forge a more efficient system.

Cold war between Russia and Europe heats up

On October 26, nato head Jens Stoltenberg announced that nato would send thousands of troops to the Baltics and to Romania in 2017. The deployments are the biggest military build-up on Russia’s borders since the Cold War. The alliance will station four nato battalions in the Baltic states and Poland, starting in 2017. Germany, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom will each lead a battalion. Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States will also contribute to a new nato brigade in Romania.

On Oct. 1, 2016, Iranian-sponsored Houthi rebels fired an antiship missile at a United Arab Emirates-operated advanced transport vessel at the Yemeni port of Mokha. The Houthis said they hit the Emirati hsv-2 Swift with a Chinese-designed C-802 missile. Security experts believe Iran purchased missiles from China and then reverse-engineered them into its own variant called the Noor.

Stratfor reported on October 5 that the missiles have a 75-mile range that sets “a sizable stretch of the area near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait connecting the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden in the line of fire.”

According to Stratfor, the attack “indicate[s] that the group has acquired new capabilities, raising questions about the security of shipping in the waters off the Yemeni coast and the effectiveness of an arms embargo against the Houthis. If not the sign of a new weapon, the attack could suggest a shift in the group’s tactics that may equally threaten ships in the Red Sea.”

A week after that attack, the Houthis revealed more of their capabilities. On October 9, they fired a ballistic missile toward Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd Air Base, about 40 miles from Mecca. The same day, they fired two missiles at the uss Mason, an American destroyer operating just north of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. On October 12, the 16th anniversary of the attack on the uss Cole, Houthi rebels fired again on the uss Mason, but caused no physical damage to the destroyer.

There is overwhelming evidence that the Houthis are an Iranian tool for establishing an Islamic caliphate. In 2014, an official for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps boasted that his nation controlled four foreign capitals, including the capital of Yemen, which was then controlled by Houthis.

Over the past year and a half, U.S. warships intercepted five shipments of Iranian weapons to Houthi rebels in Yemen. On October 20, Reuters reported that Iran was using Yemen’s eastern neighbor, Oman, as a transit point for shipping sophisticated weaponry to the Houthis.

Stratfor’s report concluded: “[T]he Houthis have demonstrated an ability to strike effectively at costly coalition assets deployed in the waters near Yemen. Whether they did so by obtaining new advanced weaponry, or by deploying their existing weapons in an innovative way, the apparent threat they pose to coalition vessels and civilian shipping in the Red Sea is clear.”

In April 2015, Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote: “The Houthi takeover in Yemen proves that Iran is implementing a bold strategy to control the vital sea lane from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. We need to understand the gravity of this new situation in Yemen!”

China’s economic offensive in Europe

China has been looking to break into Europe economically for decades; over the past five years, its efforts have begun to pay major dividends.

From 2010 to 2014, Chinese investments in Europe grew from $6 billion to $55 billion. The European Union is China’s preeminent trading partner; in 2014, the two exchanged goods worth $621 billion.

American trade with the EU still tops Chinese trade with the EU by a significant margin. But China’s persistence is closing the gap: China’s One Belt, One Road initiative continues to make significant gains.

In December 2010, the Trumpet wrote about the biblically prophetic significance of the burgeoning China-Europe relationship: “Isaiah 23 warns of an end-time ‘mart of nations’ that acts in economic alliance. This alliance includes the nations of China (Chittim) and Tyre (representing the commercial center of the European Union, also called the ‘king of the north’ in other prophecies). This chapter, along with other scriptures, makes it evident that these two powerful economies are prophesied to work in confederacy to dominate global trade for a short period of time—at America’s expense.”

‘America, get out … but maybe not just yet’

On Nov. 7, 2016, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte canceled an order for 26,000 police rifles from America after it was rumored that the U.S. State Department would cancel the sale due to human rights abuses happening under Duterte.

The cancellation came just two weeks after Duterte announced, while on a state visit to China, that the Philippines was “separating” from the U.S. “I will break up with America,” Duterte said, adding that he would instead “go to Russia and to China.” Duterte later softened his statement.

Washington and Manila have shared close ties for decades. The ties had taken on more importance as disputes in the Asia-Pacific have grown more heated. “Breaking up” with America would be difficult and risky, but if Duterte begins backing up his rhetoric, America loses an vital foothold in Asia, to Russia and China’s advantage.

Russia unveils ‘Satan 2’ bomb

Russia announced its updated RS-28 Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile—also known as the “Satan 2”—on Oct. 23, 2016. It will be in full service in 2018.

Sputnik, a government-controlled news agency, said the missile weighs up to 100 tons and can carry a nuclear payload weighing 10 tons. A warhead this size can cause an explosion 2,000 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Japan. Sputnik says the explosion would devastate an area “the size of Texas or France.”

“Satan 2” has a range of up to 6,800 miles. It is impossible to intercept by modern missile defense systems since it does not travel on a set trajectory.